A Tale of Two Ishiguros: Reflections and Review


Never Let Me Go 3.5/5

Klara and the Sun 3/5

Who might like these?  If you like good storytelling and speculative fiction, these might be for you. 


I decided to read Klara and the Sun for two reasons: it was highly recommended by one of my favourite bookish podcasts (The Book Riot Podcast), and my daughter had just finished Never Let Me Go and found it very affecting.  She informed me that she hadn’t even tabbed any pages after the first half because she’d been crying too hard to pay attention to anything else!  Sobbing, she even said.  

When my hold came in at the library, I couldn’t wait to read Klara. I chose to read Never Let Me Go as well, so I could get a real feel for Ishiguro’s writing, as I haven’t read him before.  They invite comparison, as both novels have elements of sci-fi, and some similar themes.  

Klara and the Sun supposes an artificial intelligence robot, termed an Artificial Friend, usually bought for a teen as a companion, in an alternate earth society characterised by kids who are often genetically altered for higher intelligence (“lifted”).  It’s eerily reflective of our pandemic world, though written before the pandemic, as children seem very isolated.  For example, social interactions are orchestrated by groups of parents and highly structured, and school is taught online.  Klara’s human teen is Josie, who is direly ill due to a rare side effect of being lifted, and Klara feels a responsibility to save her.  This idea is central to the story.  It is entirely told from Kara’s point of view.  The other main character is Rick, Josie’s best friend, often scorned by others because he is not lifted.  

In Never Let Me Go, a sci-fi alternate history novel, narrator Kathy and her two friends Tommy and Ruth grapple with an atypical upbringing; friendship and discord; and the gradual realisation and acceptance of their place in society.  I won’t reveal much more, but it is clear that something is very “off” about their school, the “guardians” that raise them, and the hints that are gradually dropped to the characters and the reader, of their eventual fates.  

So. Is it okay to opine that a celebrated author, award winner, and Nobel Prize for Literature (2017) recipient’s two novels that I read were…basically just okay?  

Of course!  Because we all know that writing and ideas fall differently for different readers.  That’s the fun of reading and discussing literature, its just a bit intimidating to write it on a blog post. I liked a lot about these novels: the writing is meticulously fine, there is good forward momentum plot-wise, and I appreciate that one of the commonalities of the novels is that the reader only gradually finds out what’s actually happening, and never in great detail.  Like a very very slow reveal.  It's effective, though just slightly unsatisfying, as he metes out only the vaguest tidbits of societal policy.  I wanted to know more!  

The novels lacked the depth I was looking for.  The writing was good but not deeply thought-provoking. Few phrases stuck with me.  And the themes, though timely and important, seemed on the edge of obvious, at least to me.  Humans are humans despite their origins, and deserving of the rights of all other humans.  Clearly, the novel’s society and our society today both use misguided and horrible metrics to discriminate against and kill others.  We exploit people and things.  We all create meaning around us to allow ourselves to make sense of our lives-both the wonder and terror of the world-just to get by.  All important notions, but other novels have taken me to more profound places with this. 

For Klara and the Sun specifically, the message that I derived didn’t sit so well.  She had a simplistic, child-like voice, representing a sort of innocence, practicality and single-minded way of viewing the world.  I felt that Ishiguro might be suggesting that having innocent faith in a simplistic solution to problems is somehow noble or helpful, and that it somehow saves us from the ills of science and will help us reclaim our humanity.  I don’t really agree.  That said, I’m sure this could be spun lots of different ways; this is only what I took from it, and my interpretation is all that I can speak to.  The choice of Klara as narrator gave us a unique voice, but because of her nature, the narration was as “observer” of the other characters, and thus they lacked complexity.  There was not enough in Klara’s description to give me a deep dive into the human characters.  As narrated by Klara, they unfortunately shared her one-noteness.  Never Let Me Go edged out Klara for me for that  reason: the characters did indeed have some chance at depth as we got to know them across years, but even then, were less complexly drawn than I’d like in a story. 

Overall, I was glad to have read these two Ishiguro novels.  He does indeed have a somewhat unique voice, and clearly has important things to say.  Three out of five as a rating is still a good read for me, and it’s compelling to not agree with everything you read, because it inspires thought and debate!